Bruins fall to Kewpies 1-0 in district final

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Brett Stover

“Soccer is a fickle sport,” Wittenborn told his team after the game, “because it’s the only sport where the best team doesn’t always win.

The Kewpies scored the match’s first goal in the second minute, but it would it would prove to be all they needed. HHS striker Issa Butoyi launched the ball from near the outside of the goal box, and it would sneak into the net just to the left of RBHS goalkeeper Andy Imhoff.
Imhoff wasn’t forced to work much for the rest of the game, as the Bruins largely kept the ball on the Kewpies’ side of midfield. He did, however, save one of the HHS’s few other opportunities on a shot in the 11th minute. From that point on, the Bruins dominated the possession, starting with a shot off the left crossbar in the 13th minute.
The pressure continued almost constantly, and it looked to almost everyone as if Connor Blitz had tied it up in the 33rd minute. Blitz, who scored the Bruins’ game-winner in OT during the district semifinal, took advantage of a favorable bounce after Tarnue Tyler’s shot was deflected. However, after Kewpie head coach Willem Ross’s lengthy argument with the linesman and eventually the referee, the goal was disallowed on an offsides call.
“The AR [assistant referee] put his flag up for just a second and put it down [and] play continues for ten seconds,” Bruin head coach Scott Wittenborn said. “We score; five seconds after the goal we’re running back, and he puts his flag back up after the Hickman coach goes down there and yells at him. If it was a foul.  I respect that; he needs to keep his flag up and he knows it. There’s not much we can do about that.”
The decision on the non-goal, which was put up on the scoreboard before the discussion, elicited loud boos and even louder vuvuzela-ing from the RBHS student section. Despite the chilly night and the half-hour drive to Battle High School, more than forty Bruin fans showed up to cheer their team on for what they hoped was the Bruins’ fifth straight district title.
The Bruins didn’t let up their pressure in the second half. HHS GK Jacob Gunn had a sensational night, blocking shot after shot, including a brilliant chance by RBHS in the 60th minute. Wittenborn said that the Bruins’ game was their best of the season, despite the scoring drought.
“We faced a lot of adversity at the beginning of the year [like] a losing streak that lasted almost a couple weeks,” Wittenborn said. “It’s tough to keep a group of high school guys together through that, and I think they did. They battled, they stayed together, they stayed positive, they started believing. We played our best soccer at the end, and I think we did everything we needed to win the game tonight except to put the ball in the back of the net.”
The Bruins’ greatest chance never resulted in a shot. Star striker Tyler was running right in the goal box, and was about to beat the last Kewpie defender when he fell to the ground, seemingly tripped from behind. Shock and outrage emanated from the fans that continued on for several minutes. Had it been called as a foul, the Bruins would have had the opportunity to equalize with a penalty kick.
“Tarnue, I’ve never seen him take a dive in his life,” Wittenborn said. “He’s got the ball in his right foot about to shoot and he gets taken down from behind. To let that go is heartbreaking in a game like soccer where one goal makes all the difference. We definitely would’ve loved to get that call, but there’s nothing we can do about it now except move forward.”
Despite the loss, the Bruins outplayed the Kewpies in practically every way possible. Wittenborn mentioned to his players that if a person watched most of the game without knowing the score, they would’ve assumed the Bruins won.
“We talked about no regrets, leaving it all out there,” Wittenborn said. “I’ve never seen a group of guys play through pain, play through being tired and just leave everything they possibly could out on the field so I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
By Brett Stover
Carter Gerling sets up for a shot during last night’s district final defeat to Hickman. Photo by Sury Rawat.